The Growers’ Year 2020: Drought Looms

element: Barley / DATE: 18/05/2020

The spring barley this year may have had a delayed start, but nonetheless it emerged to the surface in mid-April, welcomed by a 1.4°C average increase in temperature for April across all provinces. The distressing cold, showery February seemed to be a forgotten nightmare, but what remains to come has to yet unfold (See Rainfall 1.1).

Testament to our growers experience, holding off for the right sowing conditions paid generously when plant counts measured high numbers of plant populations after a good crop establishment. Ahead of the game, unlike any other year, our organic and biodynamic tribes have their land sown alongside our conventional(s) and it will be an interesting year to compare the two as they got off to an equal start.

With a huge dependence on the variety Laureate, we will also see some crops of Prospect and a new trial variety Tungsten being delivered to Daltons this harvest. Irish Goldthorpe grows for a second year in Donoughmore Co. Laois and Old Irish starts the battle of life outside Kilkenny City.


From every corner of our south-east growing region, we are crying out for rain in equal amounts. Many crops will be liable to suffer if the current dry and settled weather continues. Crops received no significant rainfall since March 17th in many micro-climates, and UCC academics believe we are heading for a drought rich period. With no aids of irrigation or magic wands, we are actively stalking forecasts in the hope for some precipitation. Carlow, Laois and Kildare are suffering the most, with nearly 40mm less rainfall than Wexford and half of the difference affecting the month of April (See Rainfall 1.1).

Early morning dews across the midlands lightly dampened some fields, but will no longer suffice if next week’s heat wave becomes a reality. The root systems of these modern varieties will be pushed to scavenge further than before as the soil moisture deficit worsens across all soil types.

Winter barley growers were haunted by some sharp ground frosts early last week, while delicate ears emerge from the bounds of their stems. Big swings like this in temperatures can cause stress factors like frost damage and trace element deficiencies.

Spring crops range from mid to late tillering; light green in colour, a carpet-like covering between tramlines. Disease pressure is low due to the lack of moisture amongst the canopy but some ‘dry weather’ ailments like mildew can be seen in denser crops. With soil temperatures on the rise when rainfall eventually comes, a secondary release of nitrogen will occur which could hinder protein levels at harvest if not utilised by the canopy during stem extension.

Hook Head dust

Martin Foley, Hook Head

We have seen droughts like this before in 2018, having two of the driest months (May & June) on our records.

This had a massive impact on yield and grain quality. Although we’re getting this dry spell earlier in the season, we fear that 2018 harvest maybe a mirror for what is to come in August.

West of our growing area in Co. Cork we see some barley crops rocket in growth, as the south west receives a substantial amount of rainfall more than the sunny south-east – and the cold doesn’t seem to be holding them back.

This is reassuring that, once we get rainfall, the barley will fly through its growth milestones.

– Grace O’Reilly, Waterford Distillery Agronomist

Grace at Ratheadon, Spring 2020